Whenever I tell people that I’m from Jamaica, I usually get the same two questions in response: “Have you ever been back?” and “What do you miss the most?” I can pretty easily give an answer to the first question; yes, I went back once a few years ago for my dad’s wedding. When it comes to the second question however, I can never fully articulate my answer. How do you choose what you miss most?
I lived in Jamaica until I was thirteen. In that time, I made many great memories — all of which I am at least five years removed from. I moved around fairly often when I lived there, making and losing friends. When the big move finally came, I lost even more friends; as of now I’ve only ever had five conversations with friends I knew back in Jamaica. Even though I lived there, it’s hard for me to remember most of the things that I did. I remember that I liked it, but not really why. So when people ask me what I liked about living there, I usually say something vague.
When I sit and think, I can recall some memories, but not as many as I would like. I do remember how it was hot most days. The coldest part of the year never got below typical spring weather in Buffalo, but to us it was freezing. We drove on the left side of the road, but mostly walked if we could. I walked to and from school most days, so learning the intricacies of the school bus was a challenge. To this day I cannot open the bus window.
Every other Saturday, my dad and I bought fresh produce from the market; fresh seasoning was generally preferred to the powdered stuff. On the way back home we would stop and pick up bootleg dvds and jerk pork. My friends and I passed time going to the local “game shop” which was really just an arcade that had game consoles instead of machines. You paid for playtime, not until you won or lost. If not that, we would play other games like Monopoly, hide and seek, or football (soccer). I think what makes people gasp the most initially is when I mention prices. A good school lunch could range anywhere from $50-200. When converted into American money, it would be about 50 cents to $2. I would say what I liked most about living in Jamaica was being able to enjoy the tropics, especially the beaches.
Sometimes people phrase the question differently: “Do you like it better up here or there?” Personally, I think they are too different to compare but I will nonetheless try. My two least favorite things about America are the beaches and bananas. Both of them are garbage here. The school system took a while to get used to as well. In Jamaica it’s broken up into basic/infant school, primary school (1st-6th grade), high school (7th-11/12th grade), and then college. When I started here, middle school curriculum was a bit difficult for me to get a grip on right away. My most embarrassing moment in middle school was having to ask the student teacher, in earnest, what a Nazi was. I don’t know if we just don’t teach World War II in Jamaica, or if I just never got to that point in my study. It wasn’t until I got to the end of high school that I realized that I actually rather enjoyed living in the States. I had a very tight-knit friend group, closer than anything I had in Jamaica. I got to witness a lot of interesting cultures. I can not in good conscience say that one is better than the other though.
The final question they ask is, “Do you miss it?” Yes. But probably not as much as you might think. I can easily contact the family I have left on the island. My friends and I have changed so much that we would have drifted apart by now anyway. I do miss adopting stray dogs that wandered into the yard, the river being a hop and skip away, and even the old shirtless dudes smoking blunts by a corner store. I don’t miss it enough to dream about it everyday, but I would like to visit more. To answer a question no one asked: “Are you happy here?” Yes, I am.